Why doesn’t Mt. Hood Community College offer anything near the mental health support its student body needs?
MHCC’s Counseling Center is tucked away between the campus Bookstore and the Student Union, inside Building 12. According to Mt. Hood’s website, the center provides “brief solution-focused counseling for enrolled students. (It) can assist you with personal problems that are interfering with your life, academic and/or career success,” and invites students who are “having a personal emergency and need to talk to someone.”
This sounds great on paper, but actually utilizing these services can be a different story.
To start with, the Counseling Center does not offer walk-in services. This, in and of itself, is problematic. Accessing mental health assistance already entails overcoming numerous barriers to action, including stigma, denial, and the despondence that accompanies depression. So, assuming students can even make it in the door to the center, those in crisis are immediately presented with yet another barrier: needing to schedule an appointment.
True, Mt. Hood students can access the Multnomah County Crisis Line day or night, and they should if they’re undergoing crisis – the line can be reached, toll-free, at 800-716-9769. But if the college’s only option for crisis management is to call a hotline available to everyone in Multnomah County, can that really be considered an option? Does such an instance not fall under the umbrella of a “personal emergency” that MHCC’s website explicitly mentions?
Meantime – assuming the mental health issue isn’t truly urgent – students can schedule an appointment with one of Mt. Hood’s counselors. The college’s website lists the credentials of its counselors, all of whom have a master’s degree in counseling. But, while they may be qualified, there simply aren’t enough of them, it turns out.
With an ongoing enrollment of roughly 8,300 full-time/part-time students per term, the college offers just four counselors – that’s nearly 2,100 students per counselor. Now, it’s unrealistic to assume that every student enrolled at Mt. Hood requires mental health services, but the American Psychological Association stated that in a 2013 survey of over 150 colleges, 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 4 men, reported having “difficulty functioning in the last 12 months due to depression.”
Assuming these trends run true for Mt. Hood, that means that somewhere near 2,500 students on campus could be struggling – that’s more than 600 students per counselor here. And that’s just for depression.
So, Mt. Hood may not have enough support for students struggling with mental health, but it’s a problem that everyone’s struggling with, right? Every time another mass shooting hits the news, politicians and community leaders alike bemoan the lack of support for mental health. That’s just America, baby.
But even among Oregon community colleges, Mt. Hood lags. Portland Community College, for example, has 17 counselors across its campuses, and Clackamas Community College has 5 counselors and offers walk-in services, though its student-to-counselor ratio also leaves something to be desired.
These concerns are always relevant, but especially so in light of the body recently found on a remote portion of Mt. Hood’s campus, on Oct. 16. While authorities declined to reveal the identity of the deceased, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Lt. Chad Gaidos told the Gresham Outlook newspaper that there was “no question” that it was a suicide.
Regardless of whether the deceased was a student, students living in East County need reliable access to actual services that the college nominally provides.
Obviously, this is a difficult issue to resolve. If addressing mental health crises was easy, it would have been done already. That being said, there are concrete steps Mt. Hood can take to increase visibility and access for students:
1) Raise awareness. Many students are unaware that free counseling services are available on campus. How many people could tell you where the Counseling Center is located, without looking at a campus map? This doesn’t just apply to students: a Student Services employee flatly told Advocate reporters who inquired there were no counseling services available on campus.
2) Dedicate a counselor for walk-in services. If Mt. Hood doesn’t have enough funds to employ a full-time, walk-in counselor, then counselors need to take turns, much like many instructors do with their office hours. If students can get academic counseling any time the college is open, the same needs to be true for mental health counseling.
3) Reach out. Whether via posters, campus events, or by email, MHCC as a college needs to reach out to its students to let them know there is help available if they need it. This needs to be done every term, to ensure that every student who walks onto campus knows they’re supported by their administration.
Mt. Hood needs to prioritize connecting students with access to mental health support. It’s not just a moral obligation – depression and anxiety interfere with a student’s ability to attend class, turn in assignments, and finish a degree program. Want to see enrollment and retention rates rise? Start providing students with the vital services they need.